A few days ago, I sat in the teal colored arm chair that is positioned by the door in the kids’ room. The chair doesn’t rock or glide but bounces a bit and makes a creaking noise that’s neither comforting nor annoying enough to fix. It has sufficed as a rocker for my babies, better than the Ikea one we had purchased for that purpose because its arms are softish for when they get too tall and their head rests simultaneously in the crook of your elbow and on the arm of the chair.
The baby, who is no longer a baby but a toddler even though I refuse to call him that, was banging his head against said chair arm and pulling at my shirt asking for milk. Demanding it really. His mouth stretched open revealing six razor sharp teeth and let out a scream that no longer caused my milk to let down but rather elicited fear. This baby is much more sinister than my girl was, terrorizing me with the upturn of a smile while he holds my nipple between his gums. He laughs at me when he bites and unless he wasn’t otherwise the sweetest human on the planet, I’d be convinced he might someday be a serial killer or maybe a dentist.
Meanwhile, the toddler, who is no longer a toddler but a little girl even though I refuse to call her that, stood in front of us and screamed at a similar octave. She was stamping her foot and whining about shoes not fitting or wanting real live fairy wings or a dress that wasn’t twirly enough. I can’t remember. I tried to conjure the right empathetic response but the symphony of screams caused my eyes to twitch. My stomach was swirling with a combination of anxiousness, too much caffeine, and low blood sugar.
It was 4:58 p.m. The witching hour was upon us – but they don’t tell you that you are the one that becomes the witch. I closed my eyes and tried to breath.
“Enjoy every minute. It goes so fast.”
The advice from dear friends and family and strangers, always shared with such good intention, echoed in my ears. Their words hung crooked like a too-big-for-me crown over my greasy, unkempt hair. How can I enjoy this minute? Is something wrong with me? I must not be doing it right…
Later on, as I drove across town and had a few minutes to think because my children were strapped in tight to carseats in the back, I thought about a conversation I had with a friend earlier that week. We were talking about a season in her life when a family member had lived with her. Many phone calls and texts were riddled with complaints of dirty dishes, broken appliances, and a general feeling of being taken for granted. She counted down the days till they moved out. But then, in the span of a few years, suddenly she didn’t talk so desperately about this part of her life. She spoke of missing their company and of feeling “blessed” to have had that time with them.
And that’s when I realized, we as humans are professional editors of the past. We judge the overall merit of a situation (a pathological liar as a boyfriend – BAD, a relatively complicated pregnancy that ended in a beautiful baby – GOOD) and then we go ahead and remove all the memories that would suggest otherwise. Suddenly we find ourselves reflecting in feathery awe about an experience that was downright torturous at times and we miss it.
This is parenthood.
“GOOD,” we deem it as we look back. And it is. Having kids is so good. The love I feel for these humans is like a lightning bolt that shoots through my core sometimes. And I really like them too. They are so funny and creative in ever-surprising ways. I have little best friends – except I also have to wipe their butts.
Yet the truth is, by most standard measures of happiness – financial, independence, emotional balance – kids have an incredibly negative impact. It is so f-ing hard a lot of the time. Like Ninja Warrior hard some days. No human should ever be expected to “enjoy” parts that just aren’t enjoyable. But in the darkness, I hear the whispers of shame. They tell me that because I am not having fun or feeling blissed out on the smell of my baby’s head, then I’m a bad mother.
So what do I wish people would say to me instead of, “Enjoy every minute”? I’m not sure. I suppose this isn’t as much an admonishment to those who say it as it is an encouragement to those who are in the thick of it. I know I will miss this season of life. I will call it GOOD and I will remember mostly beauty. I will wish I had savored the time, as if this act in the past would somehow stave off the chill of quiet rooms and adult-sized problems rather than shoe problems and twirly dress problems.
But perhaps in addition to reminding us to tattoo the good moments on our hearts, we should also meet each other with a heaping dose of empathetic realism. So that in those hard moments, instead of draping shame over our shoulders, maybe we’ll try to give ourselves grace. Yes, this is hard. It’s ok to not like this. This really sucks. And in the in-between moments, those that are often forgotten due to monotony and the mundane, the ones that slip so easily into tantrums and yelling even though you vowed not to be a yelling-kind of parent, let’s try to be present and open to the possibility of laughter and hugs and playfulness.
I wish I could offer you a new inspirational mantra, wrapped up in a pretty bow. One that says, There, now everything is going to be ok. Something to have echo in your mind when the witching hour begins to transform you into the Disney-villain version of yourself. One I’ve been seeing a lot lately says, “I can do hard things.” But, this is hardly helpful! It makes me feel like maybe I’m not already doing hard things. And I’m just so tired, I don’t want to do anything harder! My mother once told me that my great grandmother used to say, “Chin up!” which strengthens me a bit, as if I am being encouraged by a lineage of tough-cookie women to press on. But it also seems to have a little unspoken subtext of “quit complaining” that comes with it.
I guess, for today, I prefer to wrap myself up in the gentler words of Mary Oliver…
You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination,Mary Oliver, Wild Geese
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
Be kind to yourself today. Heap on grace as if it’s a third spoonful of pillowy whipped cream. And don’t feel bad about it.